Nation STATion: Looking back, looking forward

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Nation STATion: Looking back, looking forward

This is the last regularly scheduled Nation STATion of the season; that is not to say you have read the last of me, but it is the end of my twice-weekly contributions to CSNNE.com. Today, I am emptying out the Bill Chuck Files as I provide some closing thoughts.

The Sox have seven free agents:
Conor Jackson, OF-1B While I like players who can play multiple positions, and Jackson can do that, you want someone who does more than fill a roster slot. Over the last three seasons, Jackson, playing for Arizona, Oakland, and Boston, has had 741 plate appearances with a .232 avg. and eight homers. Jackson is not worth bringing back.

Erik Bedard, LHP Bedard would have been the Game 3 starter in the ALDS had the Sox made it that far. Dont let that designation fool you; the Sox simply had no one else. Ironically, that might be the case again next season for the number four slot in the rotation. If the Sox let him go, Bedard has all the potential for being a guy referred to by Bob Lobel as why cant we get pitchers like that? On the other hand, he also has the potential to be the guy who joins Dice-K and Lackey as out for the season. Bedard lost all of the 2010 season and since 2008 he has started just 54 games and gone 16-16 with a 3.41 ERA and a 1.268 ERA.

Tim Wakefield, RHP If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem. While I respect Tim Wakefield on so many different levels, I do think because he didnt exert leadership last season that he was part of the problem. I cared that he sought 200 wins only because I didnt think it would be fair that he ended his career at 199 wins, but after that significant moment, I hoped that he would never make another appearance. The reality is this: over the last five seasons, Wake is 49-46 with a 4.76 ERA and a 1.328 WHIP. Since 2007, the only Sox pitcher with at least 50 appearances and worse ERA and WHIP numbers than Wakefield is John Lackey. Case closed.

J.D. Drew, RF Theo defended his Drew signing (repeatedly) by stating that in 2008 and 2009 he had an OPS over .900 each season. His .920 OPS was even better than Adrian Gonzalez .913. In fact, it was 13th best in the majors. But in the 220 games he played from 2010-2011, Drew had a .733 OPS, good for 124th in the majors, although it was still better than Derek Jeter (.725) and Jimmy Rollins (.720). Consider that last reference as my going away present to Day-to Day Drew.

Jason Varitek, C If I told you that the Sox are signing a free agent who, over the last four seasons, had hit .218 and had a .308 OBP, how excited would you be? What if I told you that the guy would be 40 as we started the season? The person described is Jason Varitek and its time to say so long. He provided no leadership this past year as Captain, he allowed 73 of 85 runners to steal off of him, and Josh Beckett does not deserve a personal receiver. Thanks for everything, Tek.

David Ortiz, DH Big Papi had a very good and surprising season. He hit .309, had a .398 OBP, and slugged .554. He hit 29 homers and drove home 96. So why do I not support signing him beyond a year or two? To start with, he will be 36 in a few weeks. No player 36 or older this season hit more homers than the 20 by 39-year old Raul Ibanez, who also drove home 84 runs to lead the senior circuit (not to be confused with the National League, just those over 36). Secondly, Papi gives you no flexibility, as he is a defensive non-entity. Thirdly, Ortiz is seeking a three-year deal. The Sox should not be thinking beyond a year and an option. Fourthly, putting age aside, with lefties Crawford and Gonzalez already locked in, the Sox have to look to become more right-handed. Look for the Sox to offer arbitration and then well see what happens. The Sox dont need a dedicated DH.

Jonathan Papelbon, Closer The Sox do need pitching. They need starters, they need relievers, and if Papelbon goes they will need a closer as well. Red Sox Nation seemed to be preparing to say farewell to Papelbon for years, but now at the critical moment, there is no reason not to make at least a three-year offer to keep the closer. Over the last three seasons, Papelbon has secured 106 saves, the fifth highest total. Heath Bell, who is also a free agent, led all relievers with 132. Bell had too big a personality for Theo, but Cherington could add a good guy and a good closer if Papelbon leaves.

Dual option
Marco Scutaro, SS Put it in the books; the first transaction of the Ben Cherington era was picking up Marco Scutaros option. At 6 million this was almost a no-brainer. Scutaro hit .299 and didnt quit. The Sox need another year to see if Jose Iglesias makes some progress at the plate at Pawtucket or if he is hyped trade bait for a pitcher. Jed Lowrie is injured too frequently, but that doesnt make him a bad backup. It just makes him someone you cant count on to be a starter. He, too, could be traded. Figure Scutaro to be the 2012 shortstop UNLESS the Sox decide to give a Carl Crawford-sized contract to Jose Reyes. The switch-hitting Reyes led the NL in batting, hitting .337, and led in triples with 16. Hes stolen 98 bases over the past two seasons despite playing just 259 games. His durability is one of his problems; the other is his -4 defense. Jimmy Rollins is another option, but he feels old. Rafael Furcal is also available but you get the sense the Sox have had shortstops like him already. If the Sox do sign another name shortstop, Scutaro will either be traded or be the utility guy as Lowrie is traded.

Club option
Dan Wheeler, righty in the pen Wheeler had a disappointing season with a 4.38 ERA, but the Sox could grab him again for 3 million. He had three good seasons with the Rays from 2008-10 with a 3.19 in his last two seasons. In 28 games in June, July, and August he held batters to a .176 batting average. I would bring back the veteran.

Andrew Miller, lefty starter Im not a Miller man, but I still think that at 1.6 million, you have to bring him back and keep trying to make it work. Hell be 27 in May and while he has never had an ERA under 4.84, hes the kind of guy the Sox need to take chances on.

Arbitration Eligible
Jacoby Ellsbury, OF Jacoby wont be a free agent until 2014. He made 2.4 million last year and will make plenty in arbitration next season. Hes 28 and he will be coming into his prime. You already know how good his numbers were and if Im Cherington Im throwing money at Jacoby Ellsbury. Tell him you love him and tell him that you want him here long-term. Tell him. Tell him, right now. Call his agent Scott Boras, make an offer and see if you could lock up him up for the next six or seven years. That would make a big statement on the direction of this team.

Daniel Bard, bullpen Bard hasnt been a starter since his first professional season in 2007 when he made 22 starts and had a 7.08 ERA in the minors, but I wouldnt mind seeing him and Alfredo Aceves battling for a rotation slot in spring training. The new pitching coach should make Bard his project.
Alfredo Aceves, RHP You cant say enough about Aceves performance in 2012. If he stays healthy, he should continue to be outstanding in whatever role the Sox use him. Health has been an issue in the past.

Matt Albers, RHP In July, Albers held batters to a .163 batting average; in August he was hit at a .346 rate. There are a lot of relievers floating around: Ryan Madson, Joe Nathan, Brad Lidge, Francisco Rodriguez, Matt Capps, Frank Francisco, and Jonathan Broxton, to name a few. I would non-tender Albers and take my chances shopping.

Rich Hill, LHP He will be the first of three Sox pitchers recovering from Tommy John. He wont be back until the All-Star break, but at 31 he may have some good pitches left. Even so, I would non-tender him; after all, hes only pitched 12 innings the last two seasons.

Scott Atchison, RHP Atchison always seemed to be the last guy Tito would go to, but when called upon Atchison had a 3.26 ERA and a 1.220 WHIP. Batters did hit .279 against him, however. Atchison is a cheap date and worthy of returning.

Franklin Morales, LHP Morales made 424,000 last year and had a so-so year, so he wont cost them a lot to retain and the Sox should do that. He held lefties to a .238 batting average and righties to a .235. He doesnt like pitching at Fenway, however. His ERA on the road was 1.27, but at home it was 5.76.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C Jarrod put a lot minds at ease with the way he performed last season. But he still hit just .235 and while he showed power with 16 homers, he does strike out once every 3 at bats. Defensively, his pitchers had a 4.63 ERA, but he did throw out 31 of the runners attempting steals. Next year, he will be pushed by Ryan Lavarnway who may split time as backup catcher and DH.

Jed Lowrie, SS-3B Lowrie hit .368 the first month of the season, but hit .220 with a .280 OBP the rest of the way and continued to struggle to stay healthy. The Sox will pick up his option, but he is trade-bait, even if he is the closest friend (read only) of Jacoby Ellsbury on the team.

Mike Aviles, INF I would much rather see Aviles as the utility guy than Lowrie, only because I know hell be healthy. Aviles gives you a fair bat (.255), but not that much defense. I wouldnt be surprised if hes non-tendered and then maybe re-signed.

Darnell McDonald, OF McDonald finished at .236 because he hit .382 in September; he really hit very little to that point of the season (.195). He only hit .260 against lefties and that wasnt enough. I suspect that McDonald will be non-tendered.

Guaranteed contracts
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B Gonzo at 29 is signed for 154 million through 2018. He had a great season in 2011, but it wasnt great enough. He hit .354 before the break and .317 after it. He drove home 31 runs in May, but just 27 in August and September combined. Another year removed from shoulder surgery should help him, but the question is whether he can shoulder the leadership that this team needs.

Carl Crawford, OF Crawford is owed 128 million through 2017 and needs some good things to happen pretty soon into the 2012 season. He pretty much got a mulligan for the 2011 season, but that wont carry over the offseason. Moving him to second in the lineup might help Crawford but there are so many lefties there already.

Dustin Pedroia, 2B Pedey is owed 29.25 million through 2014 and is a bargain at twice the price. And channeling Forrest Gump, thats all I have to say about him.

Kevin Youkilis, 3B Youk is signed for next season for 12 million and the club has a 13 million option for 2013. You get the feeling the love affair between the two is nearing its end. After three straight seasons of at least a .958 OPS, it was .833 last year. His batting average dropped 49 points. He hasnt played over 136 games in three years. The question of whether Youk will be traded is valid but I think it is more dependent on what the market will bear as opposed to any real desire to keep him. His cranky attitude doesnt seem to be appreciated, but he is a right-hand bat and thats what the Sox still need.

Josh Reddick, RF Reddick was hitting .414 on July 9, but he hit .240 the rest of the way. He looked overmatched most of the second half of the season and he, too, is a left-hand hitter. Hopefully Ryan Kalish will be healthy this coming spring and he and Reddick will both try to make this big league club or some other if either is traded.

John Lackey, SP The good news is he wont be back in 2012. The bad news is he probably will be in 2013.

Daisuke Matsuzaka, SP The good news is he wont be back early in 2012. The bad news is he probably will be in late 2012. His contract expires at the end of this season.

Jon Lester, SP This coming season is critical for Lester. He came into the 2011 season as the expected winner of the Cy Young Award and fell far short. He had a 3.47 ERA and a 1.257 WHIP, neither CYA worthy. His relationship with Josh Beckett was not a good call. Jon Lester needs to grow up on and off the field if he wants to fulfill his potential and win the Cy Young and, more importantly, be a ture ace of this staff.

Clay Buchholz, SP The Red Sox on June 21 defeated the Rays in Tampa, 4-2. Clay Buchholz was the winning pitcher. Their record on that date was 41-27 .603. Their record from that date forward was 49-45 .521. June 21 was the last appearance of Clay Buchholz and Theo never really replaced him. Buchholz is signed through 2015 plus 2016-17 club options. The Sox need his back to be healthy. They need Buch back.

Bobby Jenks, RHP Jenks is signed for another year at 6 million. Theo-retically, Epstein thought this was a good deal. So far, not good. He was a physical mess last year but he also didnt pitch well in his last two seasons with the White Sox with a 4.08 ERA and a 1.321 WHIP. They cant get anything in return for him, so heres hoping hell have a great contract year.

Josh Beckett, SP Beckett is making 15.75 a season for each of the next three years. He got his contract extension because Epstein signed Lackey for 15.25 for the next three years. Fact: He was the Sox' best pitcher last season. Fact: He totally let the team down in AugustSeptember and brought others down with him. In his last 10 starts he was 6-4 with a 4.50 ERA as he ate and drank himself out of shape. If I were in on the interviews for a new manager, the question I would ask would be, How are you going to deal with Josh Beckett?

Free agents
Hopefully, the Sox wont bid on Yu Darvish. While this kid may actually be good, he probably is a 3 or 4 starter and we have seen how ugly it can be when you aim that low. Plus, he wont get a break following the disaster known as Dice-K.

C.J. Wilson is way more intriguing to me than Edwin Jackson. Jackson has great stuff, but he needs it because he is constantly putting runners on base. Over the last four seasons, with time spent in Tampa Bay, Detroit, White Sox town, and St. Louis, Jackson has a 4.09 ERA and a WHIP of 1.395. Wilson has been a starter for two seasons now and is 31-15 with a 3.14 ERA, a 1.215 WHIP and 376 strikeouts in 427.1 innings.

The Sox should be involved in the rumors for every starter who is made available for trade, including Fausto Carmona and Jonathan Sanchez. I wonder what it would take to pry Matt Cain from the Giants.

Speaking of the Giants, Carlos Beltran, the switch-hitting outfielder, ended his season playing out in San Francisco and the oft-injured free-agent will get lots of interest from the Sox, Yankees (although they just re-signed Nick Swisher), and other clubs, including the Giants. Beltran hit .300 with 22 home runs and 84 RBI in 142 games. He played in a combined 145 games in 2009 and 2010. Beltran turns 35 in April.

Michael Cuddyer is another interesting possibility for right field (he also has played first and third). He will be 33 for the 2012 season and is a right-handed hitter who has averaged .276, 22 homers and 82 RBI over the last three seasons.

Jason Kubel is another Twins free agent outfielder, but hits from the left side. He was hurt last season, which drives down his price and ups his risk. Hes a lifetime .271 hitter and is good for 20 homers in a healthy season.

David DeJesus is a left-handed hitting outfielder who had a big drop of 78 points in his batting average last season, so he is not that appealing.

Grady Sizemore was once a star in the field; now he is a star on the operating table just having undergone his fifth surgery. While I know there is a spot open on the DL with the departure of Drew, my hope is that Grady plays a year elsewhere, shows some good health, and the Sox can overpay him in the future.

And, in conclusion
Thank you to the folks (Sean, Art and Phil) at Comcast SportsNet New England who were so accommodating to me in this first season at Nation STATion. A special thank you to all for your kind comments and recommendations. Im a big fan of my readers.

Please join me throughout the dark months as I will be writing on Billy-Ball.com this offseason and for Nick Cafardo every Sunday in the Boston Globe and you never know when you might find me again in this space.

Looking forward to seeing you and hearing from you soon.

Three things we learned from the Red Sox’ 11-9 loss to the Twins

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Three things we learned from the Red Sox’ 11-9 loss to the Twins

Three things we learned from the Boston Red Sox’ 11-9 loss to the Minnesota Twins . . .

1) David Price isn’t having fun

Boston’s $217 million-dollar arm had another rough outing -- this time against a team that already has 60 losses.

Those are the team’s he’s supposed to dominate.

“It’s been terrible,” Price said on how his season has gone following the loss. “Just awful.”

Price’s mistakes have often been credited to mechanical mishaps this year. Farrell mentioned that following his start in New York, Price spent time working on getting more of a downhill trajectory on his pitches.

But Price doesn’t think his issue is physical.

So it must be mental -- but he doesn’t feel that’s the case either.

“Honestly I don’t think it’s either one of those,” Price said when asked which he thought was a factor. “It’s me going out there and making pitches. “

But when it comes down to the barebones, pitching -- much like anything else -- is a physical and mental act.

So when he says it’s neither, that’s almost impossible. It could be both, but it has to be one.

His mind could be racing out on the mound from a manifestation of the issues he’s had throughout the season.

Or it could just be that his fastball isn’t changing planes consistently, like Farrell mentioned.

Both could be possible too, but it takes a certain type of physical approach and mental approach to pitch -- and Price needs to figure out which one is the issue, or how to address both. 

2) Sandy Leon might be coming back to Earth

Over his last five games, Boston’s new leading catcher is hitting .176 (3-for-17), dropping his average to .395.

A couple things have to be understood. His average is still impressive. In the five games prior to this dry spell, Leon went 7-for-19 (.368) But -- much like Jackie Bradley Jr. -- Leon hasn’t been known for his offensive output throughout his career. So dry spells are always tests of how he can respond to adversity and make necessary adjustments quickly.

Furthermore, if he’s not so much falling into a funk as opposed to becoming the real Sandy Leon -- what is Boston getting?

Is his run going to be remembered as an exciting run that lasted much longer than anyone expected? Or if he going to show he’s a legitimate hitter that can hit at least -.260 to .280 with a little pop from the bottom of the line-up?

What’s more, if he turns back into the Sandy Leon he’s been throughout his career, the Red Sox will have an interesting dilemma on how to handle the catching situation once again.

3) Heath Hembree has lost the momentum he gained after being called up.

Following Saturday’s contest, the right-hander was demoted to Triple-A Pawtucket after an outing where he went 1/3 of an inning, giving up a run on three hits -- and allowing some inherited runners to score.

Hembree at one point was the savior of the bullpen, stretching his arm out over three innings at a time to bail out the scuffling Red Sox starting rotation that abused it’s bullpen.

His ERA is still only 2.41 -- and this has been the most he’s ever pitched that big league level -- but the Red Sox have seen a change in him since the All-Star break.

Which makes sense, given that hitters have seven hits and two walks against him in his 1.1 innings of work -- spanning four games since the break.

“He’s not confident pitcher right now,” John Farrell said about Hembree before announcing his demotion. “As good as Heath has been for the vast majority of this year -- and really in the whole first half -- the four times out since the break have been the other side of that.”

Joe Kelly will be the pitcher to replace Hembree and Farrell hopes to be able to stretch him out over multiple innings at a time, as well.

Quotes, notes and stars: Price says season has been "terrible"

Quotes, notes and stars: Price says season has been "terrible"

Quotes, notes and stars from the Boston Red Sox’ 11-9 loss to the Minnesota Twins:

QUOTES

* “It’s been terrible . . . Just awful.” Price on how his season has gone.

* “Tough night from the mound -- obviously.” John Farrell on Red Sox pitching in the loss.

* “Honestly I don’t think it’s either one of those. It’s me going out there and making pitches. It’s what I’ve done for a long time now -- and I haven’t done this year. That’s why this year’s been the way it has been.” Price said when he was asked if he felt his problems boiled down to physical or mental issues.

* “Given that [we] had to stay away from [Matt] Barnes and [Junichi] Tazawa today, [Clay Buchholz] was a guy that was going to be needed to hopefully multiple inning to bridge us to where were able to match up a little bit more in the eighth inning to get to Ziegler. Unfortunately it didn’t happen.” Farrell said on why he turned to Buchholz -- not Barnes – despite having the lead.

* “It was crazy. When the fly ball [went] into the sky it turned into like a twister of some sort and you didn’t know where the ball was going to fall. I’ve never seen anything like that before.” Michael Martinez on dealing with the howling wind in right field.

* “It wasn’t much wind. I went and looked at it, definitely should have made the play. Just running at it full speed -- it was one of those things I didn’t know how close I was getting to the wall so I went into a slide. And it was an early slide, so it kind of threw me off a little bit . . . Just thought I was closer to the wall than I really was.” Brock Holt on the fly ball he misplayed.

NOTES

* Jackie Bradley Jr. knocked in two runs, becoming the fourth Red Sox hitter to reach the 60 RBI mark this season -- the most in the MLB. Bradley also had a double, marking is 46th extra-base hit of the season -- with 99 hits overall.

* Dustin Pedroia reached base for the 26th consecutive game with his double in the second inning. He has a .402 OBP during this stretch and a .311 average.

* The Red Sox have lost consecutive games for the first time in nearly a month (6/26-27). Both losses were comeback victories for Minnesota. Boston’s record drops to 3-3 against the 37-60 Twins this season.

STARS

1) Eddie Rosario

Rosario finished 4-for-4 with an RBI and three runs scored, bumping his average from .244 to .262.

2) David Ortiz

Ortiz finished 3-for-3 with a walk, double, two RBI and two runs scored -- giving Boston just about as much offense as anyone can hope for.

3) Miguel Sano

The burly Twins third baseman finished 3-for-5 with a long ball, two runs scored, a walk and an RBI in Minnesota’s win.

Nick Friar can be followed on Twitter: @ngfriar